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TTC's car purchase is typically off track

Aug. 22, 2006. 01:00 AM

TTC � the Toronto Transit Complications.

Nothing ever comes easy to the TTC. They dig a hole to build a subway along Eglinton. They fill it in. They build a subway along Sheppard instead, but stop halfway. They build a Scarborough Rapid Transit line they don’t really want but now have to replace.

Now the debate rages over Bombardier’s controversial sole-source bid to build subway cars for the Yonge-University-Spadina line. If the TTC braintrust’s history holds true, they’ll find a way to screw this up. Reports on the issue are being kept under wraps and being examined by TTC commissioners.

Individually, it must be noted, the politicians who oversee the TTC and the individuals at the highest staff level are all extremely bright, intelligent proponents of mass public transit. They know how to battle gridlock. They know how to make the trains run on time.

But put them in a room together, and you have a dysfunctional family running North America’s third-largest transit system. It’s the “too many cooks in the kitchen” school of management.

For example, an 11-year-old could tell you the best way to get the best deal is to shop around for the best price. Just about every purchase the city makes, or the TTC makes, is based on this premise. It’s called “public tendering” � the companies make their offers and may the lowest bid win.

Buying subway trains, apparently, is not that simple.

When Bombardier bailed the Ontario government out of its misguided attempt to get into the rapid transit construction business � the very business that landed the TTC the Scarborough RT � it won an agreement that Bombardier would be the sole source for future TTC subway train purchases.

Rick Ducharme, the former chief general manager of the TTC, preferred the public tender process and worked laboriously behind the scenes to absolve the TTC of this obligation.

He recently told the Star he got the Ministry of Transportation to supply him with a letter allowing the TTC to go to public tender this time around.

But then TTC chairman and councillor Howard Moscoe returned from a conference in Rome, saying he wanted Bombardier to “sole-source” subway trains.

A furious Ducharme told Moscoe to stop meddling. Ducharme cleaned up the mess. He went back to the ministry, getting a letter that allowed the TTC to reverse positions and resume its sole-sourcing relationship. And Ducharme instituted a “blackout” policy. In other words, no politicians can be involved in any dealings for the subway or the deal is dead. And Ducharme ensured two independent consultants would oversee Bombardier’s bid.

Siemens, a Bombardier competitor, argued it could supply the subway cars for $100 million less. But the issue didn’t gain traction until Ducharme quit his post after a wildcat TTC strike, hurling more allegations of meddling at Moscoe.

Closer to this fall’s municipal election, opponents of Moscoe and Mayor David Miller have seized on the issue. The consultant reports will be made public on Thursday. The commissioners meet in public to debate the Bombardier bid Aug. 30.

It should be simple: If the consultants like the deal, the commission should go ahead. If they don’t like it, they should kill it.

Here’s a prediction: Bombardier’s offer will come in at about $585 million, $115 million less than the TTC budgeted for and $15 million below the number Siemens officials have used.

The consultants will differ on the offer. The TTC commissioners will ditch the contract, going to public tender. The price tag will balloon.

Here’s what should happen.

If the consultants like the bid, then Moscoe and Miller � who’ve talked a good game about using Bombardier because it will keep jobs in Ontario � should stick to their guns and take that choice to the voters.